“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (1 Chronicles 16:34). Thanksgiving is a time when we, as Americans, pause to reflect on our nation’s history and “give thanks” for a pilgrim people who dared to venture into a strange land, for a native people who had already lived here for centuries, and for a time when they peacefully gathered around a table and enjoyed a common feast. It is a time when we give thanks for a similar feast and family gatherings and football games and a four-day weekend.
It can also be a time when we pause to reflect on what life could be like if we lived with an attitude of thanksgiving. To help us develop this way of life, I want to address three questions today. First, what does the Bible mean when it instructs us to be thankful? Without going into the details of the original languages, when the Bible instructs us to be thankful, it is encouraging us to see and savor the glory and greatness and goodness of God, and to thank and praise Him for what we’ve seen. In short, to give thanks is to give glory to God. This leads us to the second question.
Why does the Bible instruct us to be thankful? Second Corinthians 4:15 perfectly summarizes the answer to this question: “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” In other words, all of the good gifts and graces of God are given to us for our benefit and satisfaction and joy, that we may thank and praise Him for who He is and what He does. The Bible instructs us to be thankful because God wants us to glorify Him by speaking of the joy we have in Him. This leads us to the third question.
For what does the Bible instruct us to be thankful? If you were to peruse the 150 or so verses in the Bible that speak of thanksgiving, you would find that the Bible mostly instructs us to thank God for who He is and what He does. For example, we are to thank Him for His power and might over creation (1 Chronicles 29:13), for His faithful defense and protection (Psalm 28:7), for His work of salvation (Romans 6:17), for the victory that He always brings to His people and will complete for them on that great and final day (2 Corinthians 2:14 & 1 Corinthians 15:57), and for his eternal lovingkindness (1 Chronicles 16:34).
Thanksgiving in the Bible is radically God-centered, and this helps us to interpret what the Bible means when it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “…in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In other words, learn to see and savor what God is doing in every circumstance and aspect of life and give Him thanks for what you see.
If we will have eyes to see and ears to hear, this Thanksgiving can be for us the beginning of a new way of life. And indeed, this is my prayer for us all.